World champions France hope their attacking stars finally align against defending European champions Portugal on Wednesday in an intriguing finale to Euro 2020’s heavyweight group.
Tournament favourites Les Bleus dominated Germany in their opener but only won through an own goal, then looked short of ideas and stamina in a surprising 1-1 draw against Hungary.
They do top Group F – after Portugal were humbled by Germany – but the fearsome attacking trio of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema will be disappointed to have only found the net once so far.
Mbappe has looked as fast and tricky as ever, pressuring Germany’s Mats Hummels for the own goal and setting up Griezmann for the equaliser against Hungary. Benzema, though, has now failed to score from 30 shots over three European Championships.
But Deschamps was keeping faith with the man who bagged 29 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid this season, to earn a spot in the national team for the first time since 2015.
“With his experience, I don’t think he has doubts. He’s been doing some good things. He knows a lot is expected from him but it’s not just about goals,” the coach said.
A draw against Portugal, who beat France in the Euro 2016 final, may be enough for Didier Deschamps’ side to go through as group winners. They have four points, one more than Germany and Portugal, while Hungary are bottom with one.
France could also qualify for the last 16 before kickoff if results in other groups guarantee them going through as one of the best third-placed teams even should they lose.
Deschamps said his three vaunted forwards could not bear the whole responsibility in attack.
“You cannot dissociate their performance from that of the midfielders and the fullbacks,” he explained. “They don’t have that many games together and it can always be better.”
Griezmann was relaxed.
“What every striker needs at the beginning of a competition is to score that first goal,” he said. “Kylian and Karim have the chances. When one goes in, they will flow.”
Deschamps does have alternatives up front in Olivier Giroud, France‘s all-time second top scorer, Kingsley Coman and Wissam Ben Yedder. Ousmane Dembele would also have been an option but was ruled out of the tournament on Monday with a knee injury.
After a 3-0 victory against Hungary, Portugal were beaten 4-2 by Germany despite Fernando Santos’s cautious approach and changes could be made against France, with midfielder Renato Sanches expected to start in place of Bernardo Silva.
Cristiano Ronaldo remains their best asset: he already has three goals in these Euros and is the tournament’s all-time top scorer with 12.
Speaking at a news conference, France team captain, Lloris, said the team was focused on a solid performance against Portugal that would carry them into the next stage.
“I think that the goal is to play the match to win it in order keep up the good momentum and continue to gain confidence for the new competition that begins in the last 16.”
Lloris said France’s stinging 1-0 loss to Portugal in overtime in the final of the last Euros had helped the team win the World Cup two years later.
Portugal have more at stake than France in Wednesday’s match, as they will go through to the next stage if they avoid defeat. In a tight points race, however, Portugal could also finish first in the group if they win and Germany do not.
In their last match, France beat Portugal 1-0 in the UEFA Nations League in November, which French manager Didier Deschamps said both sides would analyse going into Wednesday.
“I have though a lot after our last match (against Hungary) and we are basically going to seek the best result tomorrow,” he said.
Portugal’s Pepe and coach Fernando Santos were clear on Tuesday as they spoke to the media about their coming Group F clash against France: Portugal only depends on its own effort to make it through to the last 16.
“Portugal depends on its own performance to qualify, and that is the most important thing,” said a confident Pepe.
“The team was very sad after the game against Germany,” he said, adding that “the team is OK and prepared thoroughly for the next match. We are looking forward to play and show who we are, the same Portugal has shown in the past few years.”
Germany’s 4-2 win over Portugal throws the ‘Group of Death’ wide-open and gives Germany a strong chance of progressing to the last 16.
Coach Fernando Santos, who took took full responsibility for Saturday’s (June 19) humbling defeat, said Portugal “obviously had to improve their work” but was aware that their progress in the tournament remains uncertain.
“We have to work hard on the pitch, use all the qualities we have – our strategy, our mental strength, our will, our passion, our solidarity – all of it,” he said.
“We know that France is a compact and intense team that doesn’t allow for any spaces on the pitch. We have to play with that on our minds and play our way. So we depend on our own performance,” he stated.